Sometime last year, just as college admissions seemed to become, almost overnight, the topic of every conversation, I started watching college acceptance videos on Youtube.
After a while, every video began to feel the same – thirty seconds of silent, pained anxiety, the click of a computer, a sudden flash of recognition, and then the scream. It was a scream of unmitigated, long awaited joy, and I couldn’t wait until I got mine. That scream rang in my ears as I declared, perhaps louder than I should’ve, that I planned to film my college admissions reactions.
Filming myself opening college decisions was fun. Until I got my first rejection, that is. Without good news, the exercise felt pathetic. It was a memorialization of how much, in the moments leading up to the decision, I had cared. And although I hadn’t cried on camera, the disappointment flashed across my face was still evidence of the pain and frustration endemic to college admissions.
So, after the first flush of victory faded to a parade of disappointments, filming myself got old, and I stopped doing it. It had become increasingly clear that I wasn’t to get my viral video, and that my college admissions process was not going to climax in a scream of victory.
By the time “Ivy Day” — the day the entire Ivy League conspires to cause the maximum number of mental breakdowns by releasing all of their decisions at the same time — the college acceptance videos that peppered my Youtube suggested page felt more like pointed mockery than the results of an overly helpful computer algorithm.
They were some of my last college decisions, and I knew they were going to be rejections. I waited until I was at home, alone, and in very comfortable sweatpants before opening them. Then, perched in front of the computer with a giant mug of tea (as a sort of preemptive comfort) in hand, I decided to film.
The stories we tell about college admissions are generally very good or very bad. The underdog gets into the school of their dreams. The impoverished teen receives a full ride at Stanford. These are stories of triumph, yet they’re also statistically unlikely. On the other hand, we latch onto cautionary tale of how competitive the process has become. We shake our heads at the valedictorian with a perfect SAT score who was rejected everywhere they apply.
Popular narratives about college admissions are black and white: You get in everywhere or nowhere, college means everything or nothing. A successful process gets measured by admit rate. Some of that is a given. As far as ways to judge people goes, college admissions is pretty stark. The hard line between acceptance and rejection makes all the difference, yet it’s often incredibly thin. But at the same time, black and white thinking does a huge disservice to many students and fails to account for the randomness and specificity of the college process as a whole.
After Ivy Day and the three mass produced rejection letters it delivered to me, I found myself in the same spot many students have been in before. I felt like a failure. My college admissions story wasn’t, in the viral video sense, a success. With distance (albeit only a few weeks), I can see how ridiculous that is. I am not a failure; neither are you, regardless of which colleges you did, or did not, get into. College admissions are not a game, and you can’t “lose” them.
The Ivy Day reaction video remains on my computer. I may have to rethink my earlier dreams of posting it online, but I’m not deleting it any time soon. Acceptances are not the only part of this process worth acknowledging and even celebrating. Yes, that video memorializes rejection and disappointment. At the same time, it is proof that I tried, and that I was okay when it didn’t work out. Ultimately, that — the ability to accept and rebound from “failure” — is far more important than any college acceptance.
In absence of the scream I’d hoped for, I’m calling it a victory.